A nightmare that can affect even the most prestigious and biggest brands is a PR Crisis. Some business gets around it but for some, it is the beginning of the end. Crisis management can either break or make a company during times of crisis. Modern-day businesses are vulnerable to a number of threats, many of which can severely damage their reputation and have a devastating effect on consumer acquisition, revenue, company image and other important areas of interest for a business. A PR crisis can occur due to various reasons, it can be either because of an operational fault or due to a marketing disaster.
Crisis management is an integral attribute of every PR specialist. During times of crisis, a PR expert has to formulate the right crisis management strategies to minimize the damage while changing public perception with the right words and media outreach. For anyone on the outside, a PR crisis can look like a temporary bump but its effects are always long term. PR crisis is not fun for any company, but big firms have the resources – in terms of money and expertise to deal with the crisis until it’s resolved. Small businesses, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. For them, there is a thin line between success and failure which largely depends on the public’s perception about the brand.
There are many examples of brands falling into a PR crisis. Brands like Uber, Pepsi, KFC, H&M and many more have recently experienced a crisis due to a variety of reasons. For KFC it was when a majority of their 870 outlets in the UK ran out of chicken when an unfortunate series of events resulted in delayed deliveries. The team at KFC quickly rolled out advertisements in newspapers and over social media to communicate about the situation. A most recent crisis that happened was at H&M when the brand came under fire due to racial insensitivity. The brand experienced a serious reputation crisis when an image of a black boy wearing a sweatshirt with “Coolest monkey in the jungle” written on it went viral. Many people, including journalists and celebrities, boycotted the brand. The brand issued a public apology but it was too late as the damage was done. What we can learn from this is that no matter the size of the company, everyone is vulnerable to a crisis.
Now the questions that arise is how to deal with a crisis? First, the company in crisis should be prompt, address the issue immediately and take responsibility for its fault. Further, it should be honest and informative while communicating. PR plays a huge role in the time of crisis as it is an only credible source of information for stakeholders that are affected. Communication / PR experts have to reckon the situation and chalk out a crisis management plan with respect to how should the brand handle the situation further. Crisis management is definitely one of the toughest roles of a PR professional/agency, one that they need to know all about in order to be competitive.
- Pre Crisis Phase
An important part of every effective public relations plan is how to deal with a crisis even before it has occurred. Public Relation plan is intended to contribute effectively to prevent potential crisis and how to deal with them when they occur. Preparing a crisis management plan, training the team and the spokesperson, conducting media training exercises, etc. are all part of pre-crisis planning. Organizations are better able to handle a crisis when they have crisis management team in place and some pre drafted messages to handle any crisis.
- Crisis Phase
Having laid emphasis on pre-crisis planning and already keeping a plan in place, organizations and PR professionals have to realise that every situation is unique which requires a tailored response. There are a lot of tasks that need to be taken care of while dealing with a crisis. Public relations activities have to more reactive, this means to be more respond to the media carefully and offer updates on how the situation is being handled. PR is not only important for external communication during a crisis but also to maintain smooth internal communication and ensure no rumors are spread.
- Post Crisis Phase
Post a crisis, there is still follow up communication that needs to be maintained. Media would be interested in knowing the damage estimate and what measure a company is taking internally to ensure the same mistake is not repeated. Public Relations is very important in turning around the image of the company and shift the focus away from the crisis. PR professionals ensure the company suffers minimum damage to its reputation and that consumers do not lose loyalty.
Each and every organization is prone to crisis. If used effectively and strategically, public relations can avert a crisis by causing irreversible damage to the reputation and goodwill of a business. Public relations is the backbone of the company, especially during crisis, because it is what keeps company affairs both internal and external in check. Finally, public relations is not an easy task but one that plays a major role in maintaining the right perception in the minds of its consumers.
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